Thursday, October 30, 2014

game preview: Georgia Tech


Date/Time: Saturday, November 1; 3:30

TV: ESPNUVA

Record against the Jackets: 17-18-1

Last meeting: GT 35, UVA 25; 10/26/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UNC 28, UVA 27; GT 56, Pitt 28

Line: GT by 4.5

Injury report:

Virginia:

OUT: DE Trent Corney, WR Miles Gooch, LB Mark Hall, C Jackson Matteo, CB Demetrious Nicholson, C Eric Tetlow, OT Jay Whitmire
DOUBTFUL: WR Andre Levrone
QUESTIONABLE: S Divante Walker
PROBABLE: none

Georgia Tech:

OUT: RB Zach Laskey, RB Charles Perkins
DOUBTFUL: none
QUESTIONABLE: none
PROBABLE: OL Chris Griffin

Theoretically, the Coastal race could hardly be more wide-open; five out of seven teams have two losses, and the other two have one and three.  The mood isn't one of a title race, though; blowing a game to a rival in way-too-familiar fashion will do that.  Getting to a bowl game remains a plausible, if growing distant, goal, however.  If the Hoos are to do that, this game is a must-win.

-- UVA run offense vs. GT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 145 carries, 613 yards, 4.2 ypc, 4 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 51 carries, 211 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
170.13 yards/game, 4.19 yards/attempt
74th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

GT defense:
189.13 yards/game, 5.38 yards/attempt
114th of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

For the past two weeks I've pointed out lousy run defenses, and for the past two weeks I've lamented our apparent unwillingness to take advantage.  Last chance, at least for a while.  GT has had some pretty good running backs on the schedule - Duke Johnson and James Conner, for starters - but it's not much excuse.  Georgia Southern ran absolutely wild on GT, almost completing a second-half comeback - and using GT's own triple option offense against them.  If you can't stop your own offense....

The UVA injury report is pretty lengthy this week, but one thing it doesn't have is any regular O-linemen.  As much as it can ever be said about this season, the O-line is healthy, and ready to take on a GT trench team that's been pushed around a lot.  Adam Gotsis gets double-teamed a bunch because nobody else strikes any fear in anyone, and the defensive ends are positively absent from the stat sheet (with the exception of eye-opening freshman KeShun Freeman.)

I'd like to say I'm done complaining about not utilizing the running game, because I'm tired of doing it and I don't want to be Johnny One-Note, but I doubt I'll be able to contain myself if for some reason we can't (or won't) run on GT.  Wofford piled up 271 yards.  We should at least be able to give Kevin Parks 120.

-- UVA pass offense vs. GT pass defense

Quarterback:
Greyson Lambert: 83/137, 60.6%; 4 TDs, 6 INTs, 825 yards; 6.02 ypa

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 27 rec., 143 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 25 rec., 321 yards, 3 TDs
Kevin Parks: 20 rec., 123 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
241.6 yards/game, 6.60 yards/attempt
89th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

GT defense:
240.3 yards/game, 7.94 yards/attempt
112th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

Then again, if we don't run the ball, maybe it's just because we decided to take our chances against GT's forgiving pass defense.  On the plus side for the Jackets, eight different players have an interception; they have an active secondary and some linebackers that can effectively play the pass, particularly Quayshawn Nealy.

The rush isn't great, though.  And if GT isn't getting turnovers, the other team is moving the ball like crazy.  Michael Brewer - who's playing so great for VT that Hokie fans are calling for Mark Leal - was a hair shy of 300 yards, and Chad Voytik and Marquise Williams blew past that mark.  Georgia Southern needed only 13 completions to reach 245 yards on the day.

I'm assuming Greyson Lambert gets the call again.  Like I said: don't turn the ball over, and he should find room to throw.  Obviously that's been a little problem of his, although bouncy hands, lousy playcalls, and untimely pressure have all contributed mightily.  The Hoos will be shorthanded at receiver, though; Miles Gooch's injury looks like a long-term thing (truly unfortunate, for a guy who's paid his dues) and one of the more important deep threats is unlikely to play as well.  UVA has depth at receiver, but those are two big hits.  Caanan Severin needs to have a big day, and someone like Keeon Johnson or Doni Dowling will have to step up big too.

Given the injuries at receiver, once again I'd just as soon tilt the playcalling towards the run.  If the game turns shootout, though, which it might as GT has an awfully effective offense, the game will hinge on what Lambert can do.  I'm OK with taking our chances, as GT tends to let you move the ball regardless of how you want to.

-- GT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Justin Thomas: 123 carries, 717 yards, 5.8 ypc, 4 TDs
Synjyn Days: 38 carries, 199 yards, 5.2 ypc, 1 TD

GT offense:
326.13 yards/game, 6.17 yards/attempt
7th of 128 (national), 1st of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
100.38 yards/game, 3.02 yards/attempt
10th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

There's little to say here that you don't know by now.  It's the triple option.  It is what it is.  It's probably a tribute to that offense, that it basically operates the same year after year without concern about you adjusting to it, and still works.

GT's running it pretty well this year.  Justin Thomas appears to be much better at it than Vad Lee was.  With Lee, all you had to do was force him to keep, and you won.  (Case in point: Lee only ran the ball four times in our loss last year.)  It's much more balanced this year.  As ever, sticking to your assignment is #1.

The Jackets are a little shorthanded, as Zach Laskey misses his second game with a shoulder injury.  Former quarterback Synjyn Days took over against Pitt and the Jackets didn't miss a beat.  Charles Perkins, averaging 10.9 yards a carry, hurt his knee against Pitt, so Tech is losing some depth, but again - they just handed the ball to Broderick Snoddy instead, and he went and did the same things Perkins does, so I'm not chalking up any improved chances just because of these injuries.  Just gotta play the assignments, and hopefully UVA's very shiny run defense stats don't get blowed up.

-- GT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Quarterback:
Justin Thomas: 55/115, 47.8%; 11 TDs, 3 INTs, 1,106 yards; 9.62 ypa

Top receivers:
DeAndre Smelter: 20 rec., 462 yards, 5 TDs
Darren Waller: 10 rec., 205 yards, 2 TDs
Tony Zenon: 7 rec., 146 yards, 1 TD

GT offense:
155.8 yards/game, 9.66 yards/attempt
3rd of 128 (national), 1st of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
236.3 yards/game, 6.80 yards/attempt
52nd of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Once again there's not much new to talk about.  GT's pass offense is as usual: it generates big plays when it connects, but more passes fall incomplete than not.  GT has their big-play receiver in DeAndre Smelter - they've been missing that aspect the past couple years, and this offense is at its best when it has that Demaryius Thomas type of guy running deep routes.

I'm a little more worried than usual, and would be even more if Quin Blanding wasn't a good student of the game.  As free safety, it's Blanding's job to never ever ever get sucked in until the ball crosses the line of scrimmage.  Once it does, he can crash; til then, letting anything behind him is a potential disaster.  Don't think Paul Johnson won't notice, if Blanding starts cheating upwards.

Ultimately, though, the story with GT's passing game is the same as always: you'll probably lose if you let it generate big plays, but stopping it doesn't guarantee much.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 6
UVA pass offense: 6
UVA run defense: 4
UVA pass defense: 4

Average: 5

-- Outlook

That favorability stuff above is, this week, just about entirely based on the opponent's abilities.  UVA will be hoping its powerful defense is capable of stopping the well-run gimmick; GT will be hoping UVA's offense isn't good enough to take advantage of its porous defense.  I'd probably be leaning toward the optimistic side if UVA had won just one of the last two, but it wasn't to be.  Now you've got annoying coach tricks rearing their ugly head again, and the game is on the road.  It's hard to see this turning out well anymore.

-- Predictions

- Kevin Parks runs for 120 yards.

- Keeon Johnson has a big day, which these days means four or more catches.

- UVA's season average for rushing yards allowed per attempt jumps at least a quarter-yard.

- Lambert throws at least two more picks, one of which isn't his fault.

Final score: GT 35, UVA 28

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Clemson, Wake Forest

Florida State 42, Louisville 31 - Thu. - With an effective two-game lead, and Clemson only having two games to play, FSU has just about sewn up the Atlantic.  This is why you put that damn game in November, you idiots in the scheduling office.

Duke @ Pittsburgh - 12:00 - One more piece of the crazy Coastal puzzle.

Boston College @ Virginia Tech - 12:30 - VT has proven itself unable to stop most running games, which is really bad news against a team that's already run for over 2,200 yards.  BC is going for bowl eligibility in this one.

North Carolina @ Miami - 12:30 - The Canes are hitting their stride, and favored by a ton.

NC State @ Syracuse - 3:00 - NC State is clinging to bowl game dreams, and probably needs this one to get there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014 hoops preview: ACC returners

Admit it: you saw that header and went OH GOODY.  And, "why can't it be basketball season RIGHT NOW?", followed by a prayer of thanks to all the baby angels for Tony Bennett.  I know how you roll.

Well, you can't have actual basketball for another three-ish weeks, but you can have previews.  I won't be doing full-fledged team previews anymore, so I've got an idea or two spinning in the hopper about how to preview the ACC instead.  This is a basic look at the returning and departed players from the conference.

Using KenPom (what else?) O-ratings, I slapped together a number I'm calling Impact Score.  It's.... not totally scientifically rigorous, but it's kinda neat anyway and useful enough.  All it is, is this:

(O-rating - 100) * Minutes %age * (Possession %age / 0.2)

That assumes that the average player has an O-rating of 100, meaning he generates a point for every one of "his" possessions.  Multiply the difference by the percentage of available minutes he played.  Then multiply again by a proportion generated by his possession percentage, i.e., the percentage of his team's possessions that he ends while he's on the floor (say, by scoring, or turning the ball over.)  This should be around 20%, what with there being five guys on the floor and all.  Higher, and he's having a proportionally greater impact, and vice versa.

Example: A player with an O-rating of 110, who plays 20 minutes a game** and ends 22% of his team's possessions will have an Impact Score of 5.5.

It's not perfect, but it can be illustrative at times.  C.J. Fair, widely considered a top player in the league, and voted to the first team last year, had an O-rating under 100, and thus a negative IS.  Sure, he scored a ton - and he needed five zillion shots to do it.  The guy was the quintessential volume scorer.  It's no accident he went undrafted while Joe Harris got a guaranteed contract.  IS suggests that Syracuse will be better off without Fair.

This is, by the way, purely for the offensive side of the ball, in case you hadn't noticed.  Akil Mitchell is just incredibly pedestrian in this scoring system, but obviously, that wasn't the end of the court where he'll be missed.  For this reason, I've added up each team's IS's but warn you that it's only mildly instructive to do so.  It's really about the players.

**I realize 20 mpg is not precisely the same as 50% of available minutes.  Just roll with it for simplicity's sake.

Here are the total scores for each team from 2013-14:

Duke: 90.43
Louisville: 78.73
Pittsburgh: 58.93
Syracuse: 53.41
Notre Dame: 48.56
Boston College: 40.58
Virginia: 39.70
NC State: 32.57
North Carolina: 32.34
Florida State: 26.16
Clemson: 17.26
Miami: 16.76
Wake Forest: 7.04
Georgia Tech: 2.86
Virginia Tech: -13.71

Obviously, that doesn't correlate too well with actual success, but it does work reasonably hand-in-hand with each team's O-rating.  BC didn't finish in the same hemisphere as UVA in real life, but their KenPom O-rating was 30th in the country to UVA's 21st.  So the similar team IS's make sense viewed in that lens.

Now for the teams in order of returning IS:

Duke: 41.11
Louisville: 38.66
Notre Dame: 37.00
Pittsburgh: 30.32
Virginia: 30.06
Syracuse: 27.01
Boston College: 26.83
North Carolina: 26.31
Clemson: 10.44
Florida State: 9.54
NC State: 0.52
Miami: -3.61
Georgia Tech: -9.97
Virginia Tech: -10.17
Wake Forest: -14.50

Yes, VT committed addition by subtraction, by losing a couple players to transfers, particularly Official Total Stiff, Trevor Thompson, who took his lousy shooting and turnover machinery to Ohio State.  Elsewhere in the state, UVA is among the teams with the highest percentage of quality returning players.  Only Carolina and Notre Dame fare better there - though teams like Duke and Louisville bring back enough talent to be called favorites.

For reference, before we go team by team, here's the top 20 players from 2013-14, whether returning or not (and for that matter, ignoring teams that are no longer here):

1. T.J. Warren (NCSt.) - 19.69
2. Marcus Paige (UNC) - 19.55
3. Pat Connaughton (ND) - 19.32
4. Rodney Hood (Duke) - 18.24
5. Olivier Hanlan (BC) - 16.22
6. Russ Smith (UL) - 15.82
7. Quinn Cook (Duke) - 15.59
8. Trevor Cooney (SU) - 15.39
9. Rion Brown (Mia.) - 15.25
10. Tyler Ennis (SU) - 14.73
11. Coron Williams (WF) - 14.72
12. Lamar Patterson (Pitt) - 14.55
13. Montrezl Harrell (UL) - 14.46
14. Jabari Parker (Duke) - 14.21
15. Talib Zanna (Pitt) - 14.06
16. Okaro White (FSU) - 13.49
17. K.J. McDaniels (CU) - 13.43
18. Jerian Grant (ND) - 13.36
19. Luke Hancock (UL) - 13.06
20. Amile Jefferson (Duke) - 12.97
21. Malcolm Brogdon (UVA) - 12.64

(ok i lied that's 21)

Remember, this isn't the 20 best players, it's the 20 most impactful, as a combination of offensive efficiency and high usage.

Just for S&Gs, the bottom 10:

Madison Jones (WF): -9.65
Chris Bolden (GT): -7.26
Trevor Thompson (VT): -6.75
Joey Van Zegeren (VT): -5.97
Adonis Filer (CU): -5.39
Nate Britt (UNC): -5.08
Devin Wilson (VT): -4.81
Davon Reed (Mia.): -4.80
Kyle Washington (NCSt.): -4.41
Jarquez Smith (FSU): -3.87

All is not lost for these guys, of course.  Some are in fact legitimately bad (or just not ACC-level) but Britt was a pretty hot-stuff recruit (they always are at UNC) and Wilson's game passed the eye test and he probably shouldn't be blamed for having been leaned on so hard by a horrendous team.

BOSTON COLLEGE

Key losses: Ryan Anderson (10.46), Joe Rahon (3.23)

Key returners: Olivier Hanlan (16.22), Lonnie Jackson (3.46), Patrick Heckmann (2.67), Eddie Odio (2.33), Garland Owens (2.28)

Losing Anderson to transfer (Arizona) hurts the Eagles, but they get back one of the conference's better scorers and certainly one of the most heavily-relied-upon players in the country in Hanlan, plus an assortment of useful supporting cast members.

CLEMSON

Key losses: K.J. McDaniels (13.43), Adonis Filer (-5.39)

Key returners: Rod Hall (5.49), Damarcus Harrison (4.75), Landry Nnoko (4.29)

McDaniels is a huge loss, but it's balanced by also losing Adonis Filer, the fifth-lowest ranked player in the league; Filer transferred to Florida Atlantic.  Clemson is left without a star player for now, but some good pieces remain, and freshman Donte Grantham should be an impact player.

DUKE

Key losses: Rodney Hood (18.24), Jabari Parker (14.21), Andre Dawkins (8.61), Tyler Thornton (7.44)

Key returners: Quinn Cook (15.59), Amile Jefferson (12.97), Rasheed Sulaimon (10.59)

Duke loses enough players to fill out the starting lineup of an ACC contender, but nobody's feeling too sorry for them.  Somehow they'll cope.  Top freshmen who you'll get sick of hearing about include Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow, all one-and-done possibilities.

FLORIDA STATE

Key losses: Okaro White (13.49), Ian Miller (6.84), Robert Gilchrist (-3.72)

Key returners: Aaron Thomas (7.48), Boris Bojanovsky (5.04), Devon Bookert (3.33)

FSU is one of the more slammed teams by graduation, but their returning players are all pretty young with a lot of room to grow, and Gilchrist, while not a total stiff on offense, could be hacked with impunity.  FSU isn't in terrible shape, but they'll be a remade team for sure.

GEORGIA TECH

Key losses: Daniel Miller (9.66), Trae Golden (5.63), Kammeon Holsey (2.96),

Key returners: Marcus Georges-Hunt (2.74), Corey Heyward (-3.40), Chris Bolden (-7.26)

This is one of the ugliest situations in the league.  GT was already bad, and Georges-Hunt is the only returning player of much worth at all.  They've taken some transfers, notably ex-Terp Charles Mitchell, and incoming freshman Tadric Jackson comes in with plenty of hype, but generally their returning players just aren't very good.

LOUISVILLE

Key losses: Russ Smith (15.82), Luke Hancock (13.06), Stephan Van Treese (7.52)

Key returners: Montrezl Harrell (14.46), Wayne Blackshear (8.74), Terry Rozier (7.06), Chris Jones (6.07)

Harrell gets all the pub, but Louisville is rightly considered a top contender because of a pretty deep supporting cast that also returns.  It's rare you can lose so much and still bring back so much too - and the incoming freshman class is very deep, with no fewer than five four-star players in it.

MIAMI

Key losses: Rion Brown (15.25), Erik Swoope (5.43), James Kelly (3.83)

Key returners: Manu Lecomte (1.44)

The cupboard's going to be about as bare as that implies.  Of a nine-man rotation, Miami lost six, including Kelly to a transfer to Marshall.  The Canes will have to lean heavily on an incoming class that includes a pair of touted guards in James Palmer and Ja'Quan Newton, and they'll have K-State transfer Angel Rodriguez getting eligible as well.  Rodriguez is probably the main reason the Canes aren't pegged even lower than they are by the experts.

NORTH CAROLINA

Key losses: James Michael McAdoo (3.70), Leslie McDonald (2.33)

Key returners: Marcus Paige (19.55), Brice Johnson (8.37), Kennedy Meeks (5.62), Nate Britt (-5.08)

UNC is the team least affected by attrition in our little analysis here; the losses of McDonald and the wildly overrated McAdoo shouldn't hurt them much, if at all.  Marcus Paige is a preseason favorite for POY, and the Heels have their usual crop of ridiculously talented freshmen coming in.  That includes top-20 five-stars Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson, and if UNC can't get Nate Britt going, four-star PG Joel Berry can give him a push.

NC STATE

Key losses: T.J. Warren (19.69), Jordan Vandenberg (7.70)

Key returners: Ralston Turner (7.44), Lennard Freeman (3.54), Kyle Washington (-4.41)

Trying to replace Warren will be a unique challenge, but this should be a more well-rounded team this year.  It was awfully damn young last year, and the four-star freshman twins Caleb and Cody Martin have Pack fans pretty excited.  NC State could defy the idea that losing a ton of impactful minutes means a drop in production and success.

NOTRE DAME

Key losses: Eric Atkins (11.33)

Key returners: Pat Connaughton (19.32), Jerian Grant (13.36), Demetrius Jackson (3.14)

It's astounding, the fact that Grant has such a high IS even after missing a huge chunk of the season with academic issues.  It's also fairly misleading; he was absolutely crushing it on offense, but, obviously against the weaker part of the schedule, and would've almost certainly come back to earth.  (Especially with two games against UVA.)  Still, that's probably an accurate score, considering he probably won't pile up an O-rating of 132 over a full season, but will also play a lot of minute.  So it balances out.

PITTSBURGH

Key losses: Lamar Patterson (14.55), Talib Zanna (14.06)

Key returners: James Robinson (11.26), Michael Young (4.48), Durand Johnson (4.27), Cameron Wright (3.28)

Pitt only loses two players - but they're doozies.  This is another team that will have to overhaul itself, big time, but also has the tools to do it.  Several players were quietly putting up very efficient seasons, but were overshadowed by Pitt's big three.  Now that the big three is down to one, there's a lot of opportunity, and little reason to think Pitt will take a major tumble.

SYRACUSE

Key losses: Tyler Ennis (14.73), Jerami Grant (12.37), C.J. Fair (-1.37)

Key returners: Trevor Cooney (15.39), Rakeem Christmas (10.02), Michael Gbinije (3.12)

People look at Syracuse's losses and think "three key players out the door" - I say, two.  Fair can join UNC's McAdoo in the overrated bin.  Ennis will be a significant loss, as will Grant; the latter should be somewhat replaceable by top-20 recruit Chris McCullough.

VIRGINIA

Key losses: Joe Harris (10.68)

Key returners: Malcolm Brogdon (12.64), London Perrantes (8.07), Anthony Gill (6.61)

You know all this already, I just wanted to put this down on the same page as everything else for a frame of reference.  In case you're wondering, nobody else on the team rated over 1.70, which was Tobey.

VIRGINIA TECH

Key losses: C.J. Barksdale (5.20), Marshall Wood (-2.27), Trevor Thompson (-6.75)

Key returners: Will Johnston (1.21), Devin Wilson (-4.81), Joey van Zegeren (-5.97)

Because of Buzz Williams, who represents one of the biggest coaching upgrades in the ACC in a long time, VT is a wild card.  But still probably not very good, despite being the only team to add by subtraction - a really tough feat, requiring one to start from a position of horrendous weakness.  Some players such as Wilson can probably be counted on to improve, and it's likely Tech won't be the slack-jawed disaster of last season.  That just means the conference's cellar will be shored up a little.

WAKE FOREST

Key losses: Coron Williams (14.72), Travis McKie (8.17)

Key returners: Codi Miller-McIntyre (0.94), Devin Thomas (-3.52), Madison Jones (-9.65)

By that list of losses, you'd think Wake wasn't half bad last year; they were way more than half bad because Coron Williams was the best player nobody ever heard of, and nobody ever heard of him because he was criminally underused.  With a competent coach and a respectable recruiting class, Wake might well be improved this year, but they also still have the official worst player in the conference.  Jones has to cut down on the almost 40% turnover rate to lose that title.

****************************************

You've already seen last year's best and worst; let's split that up now into the conference's top 20 returners and top 20 departers - and the bottom 10 too.

Top 20 losses:

1. T.J. Warren (NCSt.) - 19.69
2. Rodney Hood (Duke) - 18.24
3. Russ Smith (UL) - 15.82
4. Rion Brown (Mia.) - 15.25
5. Tyler Ennis (SU) - 14.73
6. Coron Williams (WF) - 14.72
7. Lamar Patterson (Pitt) - 14.55
8. Jabari Parker (Duke) - 14.21
9. Talib Zanna (Pitt) - 14.06
10. Okaro White (FSU) -13.49
11. K.J. McDaniels (CU) - 13.43
12. Luke Hancock (UL) - 13.06
13. Jerami Grant (SU) - 12.37
14. Eric Atkins (ND) - 11.33
15. Joe Harris (UVA) - 10.68
16. Ryan Anderson (BC) - 10.46
17. Daniel Miller (GT) - 9.66
18. Andre Dawkins (Duke) - 8.61
19. Travis McKie (WF) - 8.17
20. Jordan Vandenberg (NCSt.) - 7.70

Top 20 returnees:

1. Marcus Paige (UNC) - 19.55
2. Pat Connaughton (ND) - 19.32
3. Olivier Hanlan (BC) - 16.22
4. Quinn Cook (Duke) - 15.59
5. Trevor Cooney (SU) - 15.39
6. Montrezl Harrell (UL) - 14.46
7. Jerian Grant (ND) - 13.36
8. Amile Jefferson (Duke) - 12.97
9. Malcolm Brogdon (UVA) - 12.64
10. James Robinson (Pitt) - 11.26
11. Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke) - 10.59
12. Rakeem Christmas (SU) - 10.02
13. Wayne Blackshear (UL) - 8.74
14. Brice Johnson (UNC) - 8.37
15. London Perrantes (UVA) - 8.07
16. Aaron Thomas (FSU) - 7.48
17. Ralston Turner (NCSt.) - 7.44
18. Terry Rozier (UL) - 7.06
19. Anthony Gill (UVA) - 6.61
20. Chris Jones (UL) - 6.07

Bottom 10 losses:

1. Trevor Thompson (VT): -6.75
2. Adonis Filer (CU): -5.39
3. Robert Gilchrist (FSU): -3.72
4. Arnaud William Adala Moto (WF): -2.83
5. Garrius Adams (Mia.): -2.66
6. Jason Morris (GT): -2.56
7. Ibrahim Djambo (CU): -2.40
8. Marshall Wood (VT): -2.27
9. Solomon Poole (GT): -2.17
10. Teven Jones (UVA): -2.03

Bottom 10 returnees:

1. Madison Jones (WF): -9.65
2. Chris Bolden (GT): -7.26
3. Joey van Zegeren (VT): -5.97
4. Nate Britt (UNC): -5.08
5. Devin Wilson (VT): -4.81
6. Davon Reed (Mia.): -4.80
7. Kyle Washington (NCSt.): -4.41
8. Jarquez Smith (FSU): -3.87
9. Josh Smith (CU): -3.86
10. Devin Thomas (WF): -3.52

A final imploration once again applies, to not take this as fully predictive, since it's strictly an offense-only tool.  But it's a fun exercise, and in some cases, awfully illuminating.

Next week, what you've really been waiting for: our own players themselves.  Short version: Everyone is amazing, and Tony Bennett is amazingest.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

tipping point

It's not always you can tell exactly when the end comes.  You could call us fortunate in that regard.  We can debate for a long time why Mike London has not succeeded as UVA's head coach, and will not succeed as UVA's head coach, but at least now we know when it ended.  As soon as the ball landed in the hands of a UNC defensive lineman during a horribly ill-advised screen pass.  Flip the switch, turn out the lights, and start the search.

Kevin Parks talked about a knife to the gut, and it's extremely hard not to feel bad for the guy.  The ball was taken out of his hands by the coaching staff.  I don't get it.  The announcers spent the whole game talking about Parks and how the coaching staff raves about his character and talent - which is great, and I believe it 100%.  Now I'm just wondering when the staff plans on using that to their benefit.  Parks was left waiting for a pass that never got there, which is somehow sadly fitting.

Sure, there's four games left.  Anything could happen and so on and so forth.  I don't see it.  Not from a coaching staff that constantly puts its players in position to fail.  It's everything from the preposterous to the amateurish.  After five years, Mike London still can't figure out how to make sure the right number of players go on the field.  It's not even the first time, nor is it the first time a special teams unit ran pell-mell down the field without caring where the ball was.  You can look it up.  It's a pitiful disservice to his guys.

There's one thing left to hope for: sending him off with a win on Thanksgiving.  Maybe a bowl game in Shreveport or Detroit.  If the Hoos can figure out how to beat a Georgia Tech team that just dropped 56 points on Pittsburgh, or a Miami team that looks like the division's best so far.  Maybe the VT game can be a 5-6 Thunderdome match.  Two teams enter, one team leaves bowl-eligible.  Not what anyone envisioned, that's for sure.

**************************************************

Let's talk offense for a little here.  One of the most common complaints about Steve Fairchild is that the offense is "vanilla."  It's time to put that to rest once and for all.  Next time you hear someone complain that it's "vanilla," just know they're only saying that as a reflex action.  The design is actually rather good, and here's the thing: I really like it.  UVA ran a couple reverses and a tricky WR pass that Lambert caught, the second WR pass they've run this year.  There was plenty of downfield passing.  Lots of different players are involved.  This is not just some handoff-handoff-dump pass-punt crap.  This is pretty complex.

And here's what I like best: Most run plays are run from a look that could send the ball any one of three different ways.  You have a shotgun look with a running back next to the QB.  A receiver (or someone like Taquan Mizzell) goes in motion and the snap is timed so that the motion man arrives just about the same time the snap does.  This isn't easy; the quarterback needs a lot of reps to get that timing down.  Then the QB can hand to the motion man, he can hand to the RB, or he can simply take it himself.  I don't think this is ever read-option, even though it was called that when Fairchild first got here.  It just looks like one.  I think this is called by the coaches.  That's just fine.  The point is that the defense has to hesitate a split second before committing to a ballcarrier.  This has given the O-line room to execute a block, and in turn, the run game is fairly productive.  This is despite an O-line lacking badly in experience and held together with chicken wire and duct tape.

I have just about no problems with the design of this offense.  Given an experienced, healthy O-line and maybe a real explosion threat at receiver, which is missing right now, you could really see some fireworks with this offense.  However, I have huge problems with the execution.  Fairchild isn't too vanilla, he's too goddam tricky.  Too fast to abandon what's working, too quick to try and out-chess-match the other DC.  Here's how you coach the last drive** that ended in the screen pass pick: You call together your O-linemen.  You get in their faces and inform them - loudly - that the plan is to stuff the ball down the throats of those no-tackling pretenders over there and they'd better hit some SOB as hard as they can and the devil take the hindmost.  And then you three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust your way to a win.  Especially when you're one more first down away from game-clinching field goal.  When, on the other hand, the trick play you so desperately want to run is so damn predictable that the announcers had you pegged, you're doing it wrong.  I don't blame Greyson Lambert one bit for the pickoff.  I blame Mr. Tricky up in the booth.

(I do, though, think the first one was totally on Lambert.  You gotta know in that case: an incompletion is just as good as a dumpoff.  They both mean a field goal.  Some people called it bad luck that the ball landed in the hands of a defender, but, no, that's entirely predictable when you throw toward that many defenders.

**I know, I know: said the keyboard jockey who's never coached a game of football in his life.  But then, the guys who do coach for a living, aren't exactly doing a better job.

**************************************************

So, let's review some predictions:

- Greyson Lambert starts.  Yup.

- The UVA passing game generates over 300 yards.  Ah, bummer - they were close at 284.  And getting to 300 probably would've won the game.

- UVA passes more than they run.  The Hoos attempted 41 passes and were credited with 43 runs, but one sack by UNC makes it an exactly even split.  Still not good enough.

- UNC also passes for more than 300 yards.  They did not, which is rather a credit to the defense.

- Zero sacks again for UVA, but not zero turnovers.  Half right is wrong.

- UNC averages fewer than 4 yards a carry.  UNC's running game was absolutely stuffed.  Very good work there by the defense, again.

New stats:

16-of-41 on specifics (39%.)
4-3 straight up
3-2-1 ATS

Friday, October 24, 2014

game preview: North Carolina


Date/Time: Saturday, October 25; 12:30

TV: ESPN3, ACC Net.

Record against the Heels: 54-60-4

Last meeting: UNC 45, UVA 14; 11/9/13, Chapel Hill

Last weekend: Duke 20, UVA 13; UNC 48, GT 43

Line: UVA by 7

Injury report:

Virginia:

OUT: C Jackson Matteo, CB Demetrious Nicholson, OG Eric Tetlow, OT Jay Whitmire
DOUBTFUL: None
QUESTIONABLE: OG Ryan Doull
PROBABLE: None

North Carolina:

OUT: RB Conner Gonet
DOUBTFUL: RB Elijah Hood
QUESTIONABLE: OT R.J. Prince
PROBABLE: OT Kiaro Holts, WR Kendrick Singleton, DT Tyler Powell

This hasn't been a real competitive rivalry lately.  UNC's margins of victory the past four years: 34, 11, 24, 31.  It put an abrupt end to the long winning streak the Hoos had over the Heels in Scott Stadium.  UNC is reeling a bit at the moment, though.  Nobody's too sure what's a bigger scandal: the fact that an office staffer artificially pumped up the grades of thousands of UNC students over 18 years, or the Carolina defense.  One is a horrible affront to everything people expect out of an elite university, and the other made Debby Crowder a household name.

-- UVA run offense vs. UNC run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 120 carries, 502 yards, 4.2 avg., 3 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 46 carries, 212 yards, 4.6 avg., 1 TD

UVA offense:
171.7 yards/game, 4.26 yards/attempt
69th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

UNC defense:
218.0 yards/game, 4.81 yards/attempt
99th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

Stop me if you've heard this story before: Bad teams able to run on supposedly ACC-level defense.  This is not quite as much so as Duke; for one thing, UNC has played teams with a pulse, and not everyone has run buck-wild, either.  On the other hand, UNC can't be said to have shut anyone down, either, not even Liberty.  Only Clemson really had trouble running the ball, but Clemson doesn't actually have a good run game.

Neither does VT - as has been on display the past couple Thursdays - but they were at least functional against UNC.  East Carolina, of course, went apeshit.  And the Carolina defense has been rather prone to allowing long rushing plays by wide receivers; Cam Phillips of VT had a 30-yarder and GT's DeAndre Smelter went for 75.  At some point UVA will probably try an end-around with Darius Jennings.  If it's run to the wide side of the field and not stupidly at the near sideline, it has a chance of going for big yards.

If Ryan Doull is able to return, it should also provide a boost.  Doull isn't amazing, but he's an improvement over Cody Wallace.  And of course, the other big If is whether or not Steve Fairchild actually has the guts to stick with the running game.  UNC's problem here is that they run a nickel defense without an especially stout front six.  The front four is pretty average, and the two starting linebackers - Jeff Schoettmer and Travis Hughes - aren't very productive.  Hughes, who you'll remember as a guy hotly pursued by UVA out of the 757, is only on pace for 65 tackles, a low number for a starting linebacker.

As with Duke, attacking the middle ought to provide more dividends than trying to tiptoe around the edges; un-enamored as I am of our ability to move a line, you'd rather not give a nickel defense time to pursue to the play.  UNC's safeties aren't as strong as Duke's - there's no Jeremy Cash running around - but this still really is one of those games where coachspeak about committing to the run should actually pay off.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UNC pass defense

Quarterbacks:
Matt Johns: 82/147, 55.8%; 1,012 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 6.88 avg.
Greyson Lambert: 63/97, 64.9%; 564 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs; 5.81 avg.

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 24 rec., 118 yards, 0 TDs
Miles Gooch: 23 rec., 349 yards, 1 TD
Canaan Severin: 23 rec., 266 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
235.6 yards/game, 6.54 yards/attempt
90th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

UNC defense:
304.7 yards/game, 8.71 yards/attempt
121st of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Last week was a mixed-messages party.  Mike London declared that "nobody loses their starting job because they're injured," didn't put Greyson Lambert on the injury list, and didn't start him - and then didn't even play him, despite assurances to the contrary, because a quarterback who completed less than half his passes was in too much of a rhythm.

So I really hope it's just that London thinks he's being clever by continuing to refuse to name an actual starter, but I have my doubts.  Matt Johns didn't play horribly last week, but that impression comes about only because the passes he did complete went for big yardage.  (And because it was still better than almost every David Watford performance.)

This area is where UNC diverges heavily from Duke, however.  Duke had a respectable pass defense.  UNC hasn't been able to stop anyone.  OK, Clemson's Deshaun Watson has turned out to be a pretty good quarterback.  But Quinn Kaehler?  San Diego State is just slightly inside the top-100 in passing efficiency and the Aztec QB Kaehler threw for 341 yards.  Carolina doesn't bring an aggressive pass rush, and probably has only one player who elicits much concern in offensive coordinators: cornerback Brian Walker, who's picked off three passes and returned them all a long way.

Given a choice, I'd prefer to see Lambert play most, if not all, of the game.  Against a pass defense like this one, incomplete passes are a waste of time, and you'd rather not give UNC's offense much of a chance to get on the field.  The worst thing you can do is a three-and-out drive that takes a minute off the clock.  If Michael Brewer can complete two-thirds of his passes and lead VT to 34 points, surely the Hoos can figure this out too.

-- UNC run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Marquise Williams: 91 carries, 448 yards, 4.9 avg, 4 TDs
T.J. Logan: 47 carries, 213 yards, 4.5 avg., 1 TD

UNC offense:
152.3 yards/game, 4.07 yards/attempt
80th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
100.6 yards/game, 3.03 yards/attempt
11th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

It looks like UNC won't have running back Elijah Hood for Saturday; Hood leads Carolina's RBs in carries, but Romar Morris has been just as productive, and T.J. Logan's been better.  News has been better for UNC on the offensive line, though; the right side consists of Landon Turner and Jon Heck, both of whom missed time with injuries earlier in the year, and both of whom got back on the field in the past couple weeks.  Not coincidentally, UNC ran for about 190 yards in both the ND and GT games.

The primary ballcarrier, though, is quarterback Marquise Williams, because UNC runs a great deal of read-option.  In the basic-est of read-option plays, a right-handed quarterback like Williams runs to the left while the RB heads right, so strong days from Logan and Morris with a fully healthy right side of the line were no surprise.

Williams is a strong runner; he's a fairly big guy, linebacker-sized but elusive.  Quin Blanding learned a lesson about college quarterbacks when UCLA's Brett Hundley ran him over in front of the goal line; this is the time to apply it.  Blanding's got a tough job in the read-option.  He has to watch the handoff and head where the ball is, while ensuring that there isn't a receiver streaking downfield.  The read-option creates a numerical mismatch in favor of the offense, so quality safety play - i.e., bringing reinforcements - is one way to nullify that.  Traditionally the read-option is defended with a "scrape exchange" which lures the QB into keeping and then running smack into a linebacker.  In this case that will be Daquan Romero, another very important player for this matchup.

The third way to beat the read-option?  Simply blow it up at the line.  One of its goals is to get multiple blockers onto the second level, which is hard to do if Jon Tenuta has dialed up the right blitz.  Anyway, the run game in Fedora's offense is a clear second fiddle.  UVA is strong against the run for a reason, and should have success regardless, but this isn't the main matchup.

-- UNC pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Quarterback:
Marquise Williams: 156/242, 64.5%; 1,776 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs; 7.34 avg.

Top receivers:
Ryan Switzer: 34 rec., 429 yards, 3 TDs
Mack Hollins: 24 rec., 435 yards, 5 TDs
Bug Howard: 23 rec., 197 yards, 2 TDs

UNC offense:
300.0 yards/game, 7.14 yards/attempt
62nd of 128, 5th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
230.7 yards/game, 6.48 yards/attempt
35th of 128 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

This didn't go well last week.  Zero sacks, zero turnovers.  Under those circumstances, holding Duke to 20 points is pretty decent, but it's four scoring drives.  UNC has only allowed 11 sacks in 7 games thanks to a solid O-line in protection and quick-hitting passes, and Williams has only thrown six picks as well.  And with a faster-paced offense, four scoring drives could turn into six.

Coverage will simply have to be excellent, and a little more pressure on Williams would help.  He's elusive, has a strong arm, and can extend a play with his feet and then fit the ball into a small spot.  And the Heels spread it around a lot.  Quite a few plays go to the running backs, but four different receivers all have 20+ catches this year.  Ryan Switzer in particular is speedy and dangerous in the open field, and the Heels like to set him up in the slot with blockers and space.

UNC also likes to be tricky; receivers Switzer and Quinshad Davis have each thrown a touchdown (one of which was to Williams) as well as punter Tommy Hibbard.  When you run as many plays as UNC does (they're one of the fastest teams in the country at just under 80 plays a game) the bag of tricks has to be large.

UVA needs to score points, yes, but the game is likely to be won or lost here.  Pretty much nobody's been able to stop the UNC passing attack, except for VT.  UVA can't likely win a shootout, so the Hoos need to drag the point total down to a more workable level.  Cut down on UNC's big plays and limit their passing attack, and it's possible; if UNC is able to put up 40-plus points again, UVA probably won't be able to overcome that.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 5.5
UVA pass offense: 6.5
UVA run defense: 6
UVA pass defense: 2.5

Average: 5.125

-- Outlook

This is a very, very big game.  I don't usually go in for speculation about "is this Mike London's most important game???" but this is about that important.  With Miami and FSU both yet to be played (and let's face it, Miami is a good team and the likely favorite for the division title) 4-4 is no place to be if you want to get bowl eligible.  That most likely requires beating both Georgia Tech and VT to get there.

Well, GT is basically Carolina with a funkier offense.  No defense at all, but capable of winning a shootout.  Can't beat UNC?  Then probably would have trouble with GT.  And VT, despite the fact that their 24/7 board boasts no fewer than 22 different "fire the coaches" threads from just the Miami game alone, undoubtedly has something up their sleeve the same way they surprised Ohio State.

So this is the crossroads.  Win this one, and finding one more - just one more, even two - should be doable, and confidence will be renewed.  Lose and....well, we don't even know if 6-6 would save London's job, let alone something worse.

-- Predictions

- Greyson Lambert starts.

- The UVA passing game generates over 300 yards.

- UVA passes more than they run.

- UNC also passes for more than 300 yards.

- Zero sacks again for UVA, but not zero turnovers.

- UNC averages fewer than 4 yards a carry.

Final score: UVA 31, UNC 28

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Duke, Florida State, Louisville, NC State

-- Miami 30, Virginia Tech 6 - Thu. - Overheard from the broadcasters:

"Can you imagine [the VT] offense against [the UVA] defense??"
"..."
"........."
"I don't think I want to."

"The Coastal is so wide-open; you can't count out any team in the race."
"Well, except for Virginia Tech."

-- Boston College @ Wake Forest - 3:30 - It's rare that a team is as much of a running powerhouse as BC without employing some Paul Johnsonish throwback kind of offense, but BC pulls it off.

-- Georgia Tech @ Pittsburgh - 3:30 - Five teams in the Coastal are either 2-1 or 2-2, including these two.  This week should help clarify things a little.  For GT's side of things, they started hot but it's not inconceivable (though also not real likely) that they could finish outside the bowl picture, even though they only need one more win.

-- Syracuse @ Clemson - 7:00 - Clemson should add themselves to the ACC's bowl rolls this week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

tarred heels

Our game with UNC is this Saturday, and conveniently enough, a full investigative report was released today on the academic fraud that's been taking place there.  It's been known for a while that UNC had been plagued by "irregularities" in the African-American Studies department (AFAM, as the school calls it.)  The head of that department, Julius Nyang'oro, already got himself fired for running sham classes, but as it turns out, this really wasn't Nyang'oro's baby, and it wasn't just a couple years' worth of phoniness nor was it limited to the football team - as you might have assumed by the fact that UNC vacated the '08 and '09 football seasons.

No, the truth is that the University of North Carolina essentially ran a diploma mill for almost two decades.

The report is awfully damn comprehensive.  The cliffnotes:

-- A staffer - not a professor or a tutor or a TA or indeed a teacher of any kind - took it upon herself to build a small fiefdom of "paper classes", for which she would assign grades based entirely on the fact that a single paper was turned in with a student's name attached.

-- She developed for herself the power to sign the department head's name to any form necessary, such as grade change forms.

-- The academic support staffs for the various Tar Heel teams knew all about it, steered players to the classes, and explicitly warned their coaches when the grade-point inflator was going to retire and that they'd have to find some other way to keep their players eligible.  Specific teams mentioned are football, both basketball teams, Carolina's vaunted women's soccer team, and the baseball team.

-- Tutors, in several cases, did the actual paper-writing.

-- Once the general student population got wind of this, and learned they could sign up for these classes too, some of them took so many of these phony classes that they accidentally earned an AFAM minor.

-- This went on for 18 years, long enough to cover the basketball reigns of Dean Smith, Matt Doherty, and Roy Williams, not to mention John Swofford's tenure as UNC AD.

The report is full of illustrative details and example - here's one particularly interesting one:
In Spring 2006, Professor Bereket Selassie taught a lecture class on North-East Africa, AFRI 124, with 25 enrolled students.  At the end of the semester, Professor Selassie recorded a grade of AB (an incomplete grade that technically means "absent from the exam") for a football player who never attended the lectures or the exam.  When we asked Professor Selassie about this student, he was flabbergasted to see that the AB for that football player had been changed to an A- through a grade change form.
We then interviewed both Crowder and the football player and learned that he was one of Crowder's add-on students.  She had placed the football player on Selassie's class roll, given him a paper topic, and graded the paper.**  Crowder changed the grade from an AB to an A- using a grade change form and signed Nyang'oro's name as instructor.
**The player told us that he had interacted only with Crowder and did not even know who Professor Selassie was.  From his perspective, the football player saw this process as typical and consistent with the 19 other AFAM paper classes he took during his Chapel Hill career.
Crowder - Debby Crowder - is the abovementioned fiefdom-building staffer who decided academic standards were for her to poop on.

So let's recap: A player is enrolled in a class by an office staffer, who tells the player nothing about the class itself or who teaches it or where it meets, but instead assigns him a paper.  He turns one in (and may or may not have written it himself.)  She grades it, using the ingenious process she devised herself (described elsewhere in the report as checking to see whether it had enough pages), then gives the player full credit for the class using a forged signature.  The professor doesn't even know what happened until eight years later.

This is not just a one-time thing, it's standard operating procedure for 18 years and essentially is how this player plus many of UNC's other athletes received a degree.  Nobody in the administration checks up on this and the athletic support staff uses this as more or less their only method of keeping anyone eligible.  Diploma mill, wrought of fraud on a truly staggering scale.  Carolina fans these days resemble defense lawyers with an obviously guilty client; the prosecution brings every gun to bear and you just try and poke holes anywhere you can, such as by insisting that anything said by Mary Willingham and Rashad McCants should be ignored.

**********************************************

If you're like me, you have two questions: one, is there any punishment coming down the pipeline?  And two, we all know the world of keeping athletes eligible is a shady one - is this happening at UVA?

For the first question, there are really only two governing bodies that matter: the NCAA and the SACS.  SACS is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - the accreditation body for thousands of colleges in the 11 states under its jurisdiction.  SACS is who put UVA on notice for the whole Dragas Affair.  If SACS says you're not a real school, you're not a real school, and it's natural to wonder if UNC's whole accreditation could be in jeopardy.  And naturally, SACS has already looked at this and.... done nothing.

Then you have the NCAA, which has already dropped some punishment on UNC's head - a bowl ban a couple years ago plus UNC's voluntary vacation of wins and a scholarship limit which expires after this year comprises the extent of it.  Could they open this up again?  They tend to signal an unwillingness to be a governing body over the academic rigor of a school's programs, which makes sense on one level and on another level is sort of like saying they won't punish anyone for feeding their players steroids because they're not a chemistry lab.  You ask me, I think that if vacating wins is actually considered a real penalty, then everything the whole athletic program ever did between 1993 and 2011 should go down the memory hole.  That sort of illustrates the silliness of that as a penalty, though; among other things, the women's soccer record books would be totally obliterated, considering that UNC won 11 titles in that time frame.  No, I don't think the fraudsters should get to claim them, but then, I also think that sanctions should be a deterrent, which crossing out entries in a book and forcing the removal of trophies to a dusty closet does not do.

The NCAA also tends to wash their hands of things if the student body in general is involved.  They're happy to allow a loophole in their rules, for example, that ostensibly forbid schools build palaces to house their athletes.  Kansas, following the lead of others, is building "dorms" for basketball players that cost $17.5 million and are permissible under the NCAA's rules because, while you can't build stuff for athletes, you can reserve space in student housing for them.  And this is "student housing" because 51% of the space is non-athlete.  By the same token, it's easy to envision the NCAA just washing their hands of this and calling it a school issue.  So the very-possible worst-case is that a few people get fired, and the school's leadership can wring their hands and talk about being embarrassed, and there's really nothing to prevent anyone else from doing this.

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the NCAA will do something, just not anything that anyone considers sufficiently far-reaching.  They may not be able or willing to regulate the content of a class, but they won't be able to ignore the athletes' academic support pushing classes that were obviously phony and using them to keep athletes eligible.

But is this the sort of thing that "happens everywhere"?  Or specifically, at our beloved UVA?  I could speak anecdotally: I had a couple classes - real ones in a real major - with Groh-era receiver Michael McGrew, who not only wrote but presented his own papers - next to impossible if they'd been written by a tutor.  Another player who did his own work, easily observable because it was a studio class in which faking it would've been next to impossible?  Roger Mason.  (Though, his attendance was something less than perfect, and noticeable because he wasn't the only basketball player in the class, but he missed a good deal more of it.  I have no idea what grade he got, and he was off to the NBA draft that summer.)

As well, in this case our somewhat adversarial admissions department is an easy shield from any criticism.  The academic side of the school is notoriously prickly about not giving any special treatment to athletes, as Jameel Sewell, Jeffrey Fitzgerald, and Chris Brathwaite can attest to.  A school that won't scam its way to eligibility for its own starting quarterback is pretty emphatically not in danger of being accused of shenanigans.

That's what oversight looks like, irksome as it may be to those who wish they'd ease up just a little.  No oversight at all is what put Carolina into this mess.  Faced now with the full extent of the fakery, today might possibly be the worst day since the founding of the school to have a UNC degree.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

the recruit: David Curry

Name: David Curry
Position: S
Hometown: Buford, GA
School: Buford
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190

24/7: 83, three stars; #101 S, GA #132
ESPN: 73, three stars; #116 S, GA #147, SE #642
Rivals: 5.4, two stars
Scout: three stars; #142 S

Other offers: Iowa State, Arkansas State, Georgia State, Miami (OH)

Safeties come in a couple different varieties.  Some are "athletes" who seem to pan out best as a safety - think Anthony Harris.  Most of UVA's safeties are this kind.  Some are born safeties based on their physical attributes - think Quin Blanding, but it doesn't have to be someone whose physical skills are perfectly suited for the position.  Sometimes it's because they can't really play anything else.

That's David Curry - too small for linebacker and too slow for cornerback, but a successful high school safety all the same.  Curry makes his name on instinct, feel for the game, and tackling skills.  This is what earns him low ratings, not necessarily something that makes him a candidate for the back end of the bench for five years.  I'm going to have to dip into the Michigan side of me here, but really the comparison that works best is Jordan Kovacs - a player who Division II schools lost interest in recruiting, tried out as a walk-on for Michigan, didn't even make it, tried out again, was given a jersey, and long story short made it to the NFL.  (Undrafted, natch.)  Kovacs was - is - essentially a savant on defense, who didn't have to run a fast 40 to get to the right spot quickly, and who didn't allow broken tackles.

That's what UVA is hoping for out of Curry.  You can't play defensive end just by knowing how, but you can't play safety without knowing how.  And the fewer physical gifts you have, the more you better know.  Stars from the rating services are four-fifths physical - if you can bench press an ox but lose a battle of wits to it, you might just get five stars anyway, and you'll have at least seven SEC offers.

Since they don't really rate instincts other than to say whether or not a player has them, projecting Curry's future is harder than usual.  If he's the kind of guy who picks up on everything immediately, he could leapfrog quite a few residents of the depth chart and play as a freshman.  We're losing an all-ACC strong safety to graduation, after all.  Curry is a definite strong safety type - in fact, his best fit on a defense is probably as what some defenses call a rover, or basically the third safety who's sort of a linebacker.

Kelvin Rainey and Malcolm Cook have a long, long head start, though, and the odds should be on them to hold onto it for a while.  Forget projecting Curry's instincts - we really don't even know a hell of a lot about these two, either, but it's safe to assume they know a little something about Jon Tenuta's system.  Curry's mental game is going to have to be well above average; if it's not, he'll just end up muddling along and possibly get recruited over.  (Though, it's safe to bet that if he had average field smarts to go along with average athleticism, he'd be playing D-III ball.)  He may also simply wait his turn like Cook has been doing so far, and arrive as a starter in his third or fourth season in the program.  But in the best-case scenario, he could either surpass a few players or simply prove indispensible and become the fifth starting DB, and watch Tenuta tweak the defense to make that player a safety rather than a corner.  In any case, Curry's career is even less projectable than the average recruit from here, for the same reason nobody wanted Jordan Kovacs until they actually put him through his paces on a practice field.

Monday, October 20, 2014

the devil take it

I'd been preaching the past few weeks that it wasn't real likely that everything was gonna go right in the second half of the season, but I gotta admit I wasn't too sure what that would look like.  No, I wasn't very excited to find out, thank you.  In a nutshell, the answer is:

-- A really bad offensive game plan, badly executed
-- An opposing offensive game plan perfectly suited to nullify the strength of our defense

The latter is actually a little bit encouraging.  The pass rush was taken entirely out of the equation, Anthony Boone wasn't touched, and the defense still only allowed 20 points.  (Though aided somewhat by Boone's inaccuracy.)  There are definitely worse offenses left on the schedule, one of which was on display Thursday night.

Our own offense was a massive disappointment, though.  Yes, dropped passes hurt, and yes, Matt Johns missed some very open receivers deep.  That's not the worst part, though.  The worst part is that Duke's defense has been very, very amenable to jamming the ball down their throat, as evidenced by the fact that some of the shittiest teams in all of D-I football have done just that, and UVA elected to pass more than 60% of the time.

Let's put this in perspective: Duke has a very poor run defense and a very good pass defense.  You have a senior running back and a sophomore quarterback.**  You are presented with a wall of paper and a wall of brick, and you can either use a flamethrower on the paper or a rubber mallet on the brick.  You chose the mallet.

So yes, Matt Johns was mostly off-target with sporadic displays of brilliance, but nobody blames the foot soldiers for the failure of Pickett's Charge.  The coaches had an obvious chance to set their players up for success, and instead got outcoached on two weeks of preparation by a staff with one week of preparation.  It's not hard to see why there's still plenty of angst about the future of the program.

It's a sobering reminder of where our ambitions should be.  A division title would be cool, and jeez, even reachable, but we're probably gonna have to dial that back a bit.  I don't like it one bit, but an offense that spins its wheels as much as this one hasn't earned much confidence in the future.  13 points against that defense is just - ugh, I'm forced to deploy the word of choice for drunken Saturday-night quarterbacks everywhere - unacceptable.

**And your senior running back routinely turns in awesome performances in the state of North Carolina, because he's pissed off that none of the teams there recruited him.  GIVE HIM THE BALL!

Bullets:

-- Short-side east-west plays (the bane of my existence) and poor run-pass balance aren't the only coaching bugaboos to make a triumphant return.  Crappy timeout usage was also costly.  Not as costly as other stuff, but still.

-- I really do not like the orange helmets with gray facemasks.  Really ugly when not part of a throwback.  It's amazing how the wrong helmet turns one of the classiest looks we've ever had into one of the worst.

-- I don't want to do the research on this myself, because it'd take forever, but I wonder when the last time was that a college quarterback completed less than half his passes for over 300 yards.  Johns was nine yards shy of the sophomore record (Matt Schaub, 334) and would've threatened (if not completely blown past) the single-game record of 393 (Schaub, again) with a little more accuracy on some of those deep balls.  Or fewer dropped passes.

-- Another thing I hate: Receiving the opening kickoff.  You basically have to score right there, on that drive, or else you've blown the whole advantage of it.  Anything else - anything at all - and the other team, especially in their own stadium, gets to start the game on a momentum high.  Another reason, by the way, that all that passing was stupid.  Nothing would've been as perfect as taking the opening kick and spending the next seven minutes grinding out as many rushing yards as your heart desired.  Send the message that we're gonna do this all day so you might as well lose hope now.

 Prediction review:

-- Kevin Parks runs for over 100 yards. Well, maybe if he'd been given any carries.

-- Greyson Lambert (or our starting quarterback) attempts fewer than 20 passes.  I really need to stop making predictions based on what I would do.

-- UVA loses the turnover battle.  This did happen, although the general point was to build a narrative where UVA was good enough to overcome doing so.

-- Duke's run game is more than a yard worse than their average.  No, and Duke was surprisingly and annoyingly effective on the ground.

-- Quin Blanding has 10 or more tackles.  Blanding had nine; it was Anthony Harris who had the big day in the secondary with 14

-- UVA wins time of possession by six or more minutes.  The Hoos did win this battle, but not by that much.

New prediction stats:

14-for-35 on specifics (40%)
4-2 straight up
2-2-1 ATS

*************************************************

Two things happened over the weekend worth discussing.  Well, Thursday and then Monday.

The Monday thing is Tony Bennett building up his 2016 class with the addition of Indiana guard Kyle Guy.  As with Ty Jerome, the first member of the class, I'm gonna wait til these guys finish their junior years before even bothering with trying a profile.  But know this: The Indiana schools normally have the state of Indiana on lockdown, and if not them, the state's high-profile recruits still choose a school close by.  In 2012, for example, the state produced eight four-star prospects (by Rivals' reckoning.)  Three went to IU, two to Purdue, and one each to Butler, Michigan, and MSU.

In fact, going back to the 2009 class, there've been about 30 four-star or above prospects (Rivals, again) to come out of the state of Indiana - exactly one of them went to a school somewhere other than the state of Indiana or one of its direct neighbors.  Guy is the second.

The 2016 class is shaping up to be perhaps Tony's most heralded class of his UVA tenure; it now needs some lengthy wing types, as the only three on the 2016-2017 depth chart is Marial Shayok.  Highly fluid is the world of basketball recruiting, which is why I don't cover it til after the commitments happen; that said, if you don't know the name Mamadi Diakite yet, learn it.

The Thursday thing was the VT game against Pitt, which I watched from start to finish, the first time I'd done so all year.  I came away with a few opinions, naturally:

-- VT gets horrible safety play.  Before the game I'd noticed, during my stat-digging, that they've been prone to giving up long pass plays, a surefire indicator that safeties aren't in the right place at the right time.  Kyshoen Jarrett's awful angle on a long Tyler Boyd touchdown, as pointed out by the announcers, drove that point home.  Their corners are more or less as advertised (which is to say, very good), but the safeties - woof.

-- Michael Brewer is a good quarterback about 25% of the time.

-- VT's offensive line is fun to watch, if you like defensive line play.  Pitt's Nicholas Grigsby is not an elite defender by anyone's measurement, but on one play he blew untouched past VT's right tackle, McLaughlin.  Eli Harold and Max Valles should have an enjoyable day on Thanksgiving weekend.

-- You would expect that at least VT's run defense would be up to snuff, but James Conner and Chad Voytik ran wild all evening.

-- Did the Hokies do anything right?  Not a lot, when you're looking at no first downs in the first quarter-and-a-half.  But besides their excellent cornerbacks, Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips make for a very impressive pair of freshman receivers.  DT Corey Marshall did a nice job on one play of dropping back into coverage and it resulted in a pickoff, a dangerous thing for our short-tossing pass offense.  (Though, most short passes go toward the sideline rather than dunkoffs over the middle.)

I'm really rooting for Miami in Lane Stadium next week - I mean, besides the whole thing about let's not root for Tech to win anything, VT is in the middle of their special scheduling handjob the ACC gives them literally every year.  (Except last year, which caused them no end of distress about having to do something most teams routinely do.)  Seeing them go 0-for-2 on Thursdays, well, it'd be no less than they deserve for the special treatment they get.  Their next three opponents - Miami, BC, Duke - all have very strong running games, and if they don't get their run defense act together at least once, UVA will have the chance to deliver the death blow to their bowl eligibility hopes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

game preview: Duke


Date/Time: Saturday, October 18; 12:30

TV: ESPN3

Record against the Blue Devils: 33-32

Last meeting: Duke 35, UVA 22; 10/19/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA bye; Duke 31, GT 25

Line: Duke by 2.5

Injury report:

Virginia:

OUT: OG Ryan Doull, C Jackson Matteo, CB Demetrious Nicholson, OG Jay Whitmire
DOUBTFUL: None
QUESTIONABLE: None
PROBABLE: None

Duke:

OUT: TE Dan Bellinson, CB Johnathan Lloyd, OL Trip McNeill, DT Jamal Wallace, LB Kelby Brown, TE Braxton Deaver, DE Taariq Shabazz
DOUBTFUL: None
QUESTIONABLE: None
PROBABLE: DE Dezmond Johnson, RB Shaq Powell

Duke has a good football team these days.  Eight years ago, that was the first definition in the dictionary under "unthinkable."  Right underneath was the idea that any ACC team might lose five out of six to them.  And let's be honest: I'm still not used to it.  The good news is, if we lose again, we can walk out muttering "just wait til basketball season" and mean it.

-- UVA run offense vs. Duke run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 104 carries, 427 yards, 4.1 ypc, 3 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 42 carries, 173 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
177.0 yards/game, 4.23 yards/attempt
73rd of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Duke defense:
202.33 yards/game, 4.56 yards/attempt
85th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

Ryan Doull's unexpected appearance on the injury report is a medium-serious blow to the running game and a pretty solid hit to the already razor-thin depth on the OL.  Doull will probably be replaced by Cody Wallace, who's been in and out of the lineup most of his career - and mostly out this year.  Wallace has always been marginal at best; the fact that Doull jumped all the way from kick protection to starting lineup, past Wallace in his fifth year, is not a ringing endorsement of Wallace's skills.

The good news is Duke's defense, which is junk.  Elon - a 1-5 I-AA team - sent their backs through the Duke defense for 5.4 yards a carry, sacks excluded.  Tulane's top two backs combined for 6.5.  Duke's defense wasn't great last year, either; losing top linebacker Kelby Brown really hurt.  Jeremy Cash at safety is a very good run-stopper and basically a linebacker, but he can't do it all himself.  Duke's defensive front line is somewhat undersized and not very good.

So it's a resistible-force vs. movable-object kind of matchup.  It doesn't take a running game like Miami's to tear up the Duke defense (although they did as well.)  I've said that UVA could ride Kevin Parks to a pretty successful run game if the O-line could get just a little bit of push and let Parks build up momentum as he hit the line.  That could be illustrated this week, even with a depleted line, and the fact that UVA's playcalling has skewed to the run side of things should help even more.  Duke's incredible-shreddable defense should probably let Parks roll to a second straight 100-yard game.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Duke pass defense

Quarterbacks:
Matt Johns: 60/102, 58.8%; 687 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs; 6.74 ypa
Greyson Lambert: 63/97, 64.9%; 564 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs; 5.81 ypa

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 21 rec., 255 yards, 2 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 21 rec., 99 yards, 0 TDs
Miles Gooch: 17 rec., 220 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
220.7 yards/game, 6.49 yards/attempt
95th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Duke defense:
184.5 yards/game, 5.62 yards/attempt
13th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

That defense that's been so friendly to run games, though, has tightened up against the pass.  Duke runs a nickel package almost exclusively and they have the safety depth to do it.  Cash is just a good defender regardless of what the offense is doing, and DeVon Edwards is an excellent complement.  There isn't much of a pass rush, but DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo provides a decent challenge there.

Greyson Lambert isn't on the injury report.  He'll almost certainly get the start, but nobody really knows what London is thinking when it comes to the hook.  You know my thoughts: let the starter play.  Johns has done a solid job, but Lambert, I think, has done a little bit of a better job taking care of the ball (you'll remember, his first two picks weren't his fault.)

That'll be the main thing here.  Duke's inability to stop the run could open up certain passing opportunities as well, little screens and such, the sort of thing that Steve Fairchild tries in order to put the ball in Taquan Mizzell's hands in space.  Lambert should usually have time, as well.  Duke's numbers have come largely against crap offenses - Kansas and Tulane in particular really suck at passing the ball - but they've at least stopped them, unlike in the run game.  In Tulane's case, the Blue Devil defense took two interceptions all the way back.  If the running game can get moving like I think, Lambert's main job will be zero INTs.  Not easy, against a quality group of safeties, but I don't think much will be asked of him.

-- Duke run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Josh Snead: 49 carries, 256 yards, 5.2 ypc, 2 TDs
Shaun Wilson: 43 carries, 466 yards, 10.8 ypc, 4 TDs

Duke offense:
228.5 yards/game, 5.83 yards/attempt
12th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
91.5 yards/game, 2.72 yards/attempt
4th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

Duke's run game has been enormously successful, frankly, and it doesn't matter who carries the ball.  They spread it out a ton.  Freshman Shaun Wilson piled up 245 yards on just 12 carries against the admittedly pitiful Kansas Jayhawks.  Josh Snead and Shaq Powell have been very solid backs throughout their careers.  And Duke likes to run their quarterbacks plenty as well; Anthony Boone is mobile enough, but Duke has packages as well for Thomas Sirk, an excellent runner with good size.

Of course, the one time Duke went against a decent defense, they got snuffed pretty good.  That was Miami - the game was played in a drenching downpour, but Miami did alright on the ground.  Duke does have a pretty solid offensive line, but I think you might have been introduced before to the UVA front six-or-seven.  Pitt's James Conner certainly was.

The main thing for UVA will be to sniff out the various looks Duke will throw at them, especially when Sirk enters the game.  Duke's O-line is good and will win their share of battles, making the linebackers and Quin Blanding pretty important.  And that should make Duke fans nervous.

-- Duke pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Quarterback:
Anthony Boone: 121/210, 57.6%; 1,186 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs; 5.65 ypa

Top receivers:
Jamison Crowder: 32 rec., 372 yards, 2 TDs
Max McCaffrey: 23 rec., 236 yards, 3 TDs
Issac Blakeney: 19 rec., 212 yards, 3 TDs

Duke offense:
205.5 yards/game, 5.50 yards/attempt
122nd of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
239.3 yards/game, 6.81 yards/attempt
54th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Statistically, Anthony Boone appears to have taken a step backwards from last year, a worrying sign given Duke's competition so far (remember, GT's defense = not that good.)  Six and a half percentage points worse in the completion department, a yard and a half worse per attempt.  This is the one point where we'll make a big allowance for the rainstorm in Miami, though - even though it was only during the second half.  Take away Boone's Miami stats and he's still worse, but not appreciably.

Still, perhaps this will be a telling stat: the WRs' yards per catch.  UVA fans at times bemoan a dink-and-dunk approach, but every one of UVA's top four wide receivers (RBs not included) has a higher per-catch average than every one of Duke's top four.  Duke and dunk.

This is reflected in Duke's pass protection stats; they've only allowed four sacks all season, which is a testament to the O-line, the mobility of the quarterbacks, and the quickness with which they get rid of the ball.  Duke will probably try and drop the ball off even quicker given UVA's blitzy pass rush.  There could be some plays where that burns us - slant routes and the like - so safety play will be huge.  The other important thing is not getting sucked in on Sirk packages, although he hasn't completed a pass since the Kansas game (third of the season) and isn't guaranteed to even try a pass here.

-- Favorability ratings:

UVA run offense: 6
UVA pass offense: 4
UVA run defense: 6.5
UVA pass defense: 6

Average: 5.6

-- Outlook

It's certainly possible I'm just getting sucked in to the excitement of novel ideas like a winning record, but - I'm not impressed with Duke's schedule, I'm not impressed with their results, with scores that belie a lack of statistical dominance, and I'm not impressed with their front six.  And I'm like a tweenage girl at a One Direction concert for the front line of our defense.

So I'm optimistic.  Any time a team faces us with a bad defense and a good offense, rather than the other way round, we have at least a chance and probably more.  UVA's defense isn't good enough to carry the offense through every single game, but this one - I'd say yes.

-- Predictions

-- Kevin Parks runs for over 100 yards.

-- Greyson Lambert (or our starting quarterback) attempts fewer than 20 passes.

-- UVA loses the turnover battle.

-- Duke's run game is more than a yard worse than their average.

-- Quin Blanding has 10 or more tackles.

-- UVA wins time of possession by six or more minutes.

Final score: UVA 28, Duke 17

-- Rest of the ACC

Bye: Miami

Virginia Tech @ Pittsburgh - Thu., 7:30 - I've been watching this game all evening, and Tech's offense is pitiful and the Hokies are basically getting dominated, but I've never seen a team blow stuff up in its own face like Pitt is doing.

Syracuse @ Wake Forest - 12:00 - A pair of 0-2 teams battle.  Critical game for Cuse if they're going to salvage bowl eligibility.

Clemson @ Boston College - 3:30 - Clemson is favored, but only by 4.5; a huge game if they want to try and stay in shouting distance of FSU.

NC State @ Louisville - 3:30 - The Pack started 4-0 and are now 4-3, staring at 4-4, proving that you can "schedule for success" and still be a total embarrassment.

Georgia Tech @ North Carolina - 7:00 - I may actually Tivo this one in hopes that the final score is like 84-77.

Florida State vs. Notre Dame - 8:00 - Whoever wins has a very, very inside track for inclusion in the four-team playoff.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

half-season preview

Four and two is nice, sure.  Four and two is quite a bit above and beyond anyone's most optimistic predictions, really.  Jon Tenuta's sack-line defense is more fun to watch than we had a right to expect, even knowing what we had in our front seven (or six.)  Competent quarterback play has returned to Scott Stadium after a hiatus of some time.

But I think folks also understand: Mike London's seat isn't any cooler than it was.  Part of this is because being a UVA fan means spending your whole life waiting for the other shoe to drop, but part of it is also the understanding that this team could easily be 2-4, and still working on a winless streak in the ACC, if you change a play or two here and there.  We said the same thing in reverse about losing teams of the past, so it's at least nice to watch the bounces go the right way.  Still, the only thing that's really been accomplished is to set the team up for the necessary success to keep London behind the wheel of his complementary BMW.

I'm on record as saying that an eight-win season is what it would - or should - take.  (Or seven, as long as one comes in Blacksburg.)  Halfway there - that's great, but I don't know if we want to see the state of the fanbase or the program if the finish is 1-5.  So: it's time to see about the remaining obstacles.  Three-quarters of the ACC season remains, and tougher yet, four of the next six are on the road.  Here's a broad overview of what UVA will be up against.

DUKE

Offense: Efficient
Defense: Unimpressive

Duke is just about how I had them pegged at the start of the season, except with less of a passing game.  The quirk in their stats is that they're excellent in the run game (on offense) and so-so passing the ball, and the very opposite on defense.  A lot of this has to be viewed through the prism of their schedule, of course.  For example, Anthony Boone appears to have taken a big step back in his accuracy, but his stats are skewed by 51 passes in a monsoon against Miami.

Duke's OOC schedule was an utter embarrassment; the combined record of their four opponents is 6-18.  Once they stopped playing joke teams and joined the real world, they promptly lost.  They bounced back with a nice win over GT in Atlanta - that said, I'm still not convinced GT is a good team.

Against the backdrop of that schedule, Duke still has one of the worst run defenses (per play) in the league, and they don't even need GT's stat-skewing run game to accomplish that.  They came nowhere near shutting down the nonsense they played in the OOC.  Bottom line, this is a very beatable opponent whose strengths play right into ours.

NORTH CAROLINA

Offense: Solid, but very reliant on Marquise Williams
Defense: Can heel, roll over, play dead, and even beg

Legend has it that soldiers from North Carolina held their ground in battle so well that it was as if they had tar on their heels.  If the current UNC defense had been the one in the legends, North Carolina might today be known as the White Flag State.  Carolina can score pretty well, and may even have dropped the idea of platooning Marquise Williams with Mitch Trubisky, which would be the smart thing to do.  Williams is a very effective passer and runner in Larry Fedora's up-tempo offense.

Problem is, the defense is incredibly polite, compliant, and eager to accommodate opposing offenses.  "Oh, sorry, chap," they'll say.  "Didn't mean to stand in your way.  Off to the end zone, are you?  Jolly good."  These guys will not only usher you to your seat, they'll kindly hold your hat and coat as you enjoy the show, and refuse a tip at the end of the night.  Week after week, the Heels have been getting mercilessly blown apart.  ECU racked up 70 points and 789 yards, both records for a UNC opponent.  Notre Dame beat them 50-43, thus putting the highest-scoring game in the history of Notre Dame Stadium into the books.  The run defense isn't much to speak of, but Helen Keller could throw for 200 yards on the pass defense and probably never be sacked.

UVA gets to play this shitshow at home.  I'm not real convinced of our offensive capabilities yet, but if you can't score on UNC you can't score on anyone.

GEORGIA TECH

Offense: The usual
Defense: The reason I'm not convinced

GT has powered up the run game with the usual brutal efficiency, and their passing game has been working too, which is what drove their rise to the top 25 - prior, of course, to their loss to Duke.  There's still a ways to go, though; Justin Thomas against Duke made what might be the single stupidest throw I've ever seen out of a quarterback, which helped Duke out immensely.

That said, GT's OOC was just as jokey as Duke's, and GT's defensive stats stink to high heaven.  They almost squandered a huge lead to Georgia Southern, they've been badly susceptible to the big play, and frankly I can't wait for their game against UNC, coming up this Saturday.  UVA has to travel to Atlanta for this one, which is usually a tough trip, and all the usual caveats apply about stopping the triple option.  But I do not think GT is anything resembling a top-25 team, and should be viewed as just as badly flawed a team as any in the Coastal.

FLORIDA STATE

Offense: Extremely tough to stop
Defense: Up and down, but still really athletic

Still undefeated, FSU hasn't lost since November 24, 2012.  But pundits haven't found them as convincing as last year, and indeed, they haven't shown the same unstoppable mojo as the 2013 team that scored a minimum of 41 points in any given conference game.  Even in not losing, they've relinquished the top spots in the polls.

Still... I mean, whatever.  A loss may or may not be coming this season, but "not quite as national-championship caliber as last year" is praising with faint damnation.  UVA has to make another trip to Tallahassee, the toughest of the four remaining road games, even if Jameis Winston ends up suspended between now and then.

MIAMI

Offense: Respectable
Defense: About average

It's hard to peg this Miami squad, because they're one of those teams that loses to good teams and beats bad ones.  They weren't competitive against Louisville and couldn't catch up to Nebraska, and barely scored on Georgia Tech.  But they did beat Duke and an assortment of crappy OOC teams.  They do have one hell of a run game - Duke Johnson remains the real deal - and they really like freshman QB Brad Kaaya, not without reason.

Probably most educational will be their game in a couple weeks against VT; they have two other games between now and their trip to Charlottesville, but UNC and FSU don't tell you much.  The one really disappointing thing: this isn't one of UVA's road games this year.  Their devilish plan is apparently to lull opponents to sleep, because their sterile pro stadium has all the intimidating atmosphere of an Applebee's.  I've played on louder intramural fields.

VIRGINIA TECH

Offense: OK when not turning it over
Defense: Inconsistent

The Hokies stand more or less in the same place UVA does: 4-2 and not real sure about the next six games.  Tech pulled out every trick in their bag and knocked off Ohio State in Columbus, lost to ECU and GT, then unconvincingly beat two bad teams in Western Michigan and UNC.  Carolina actually slowed down the VT offense quite a bit.

Their defense has been mostly pretty good, which is a drop in standards from what you'd expect.  UNC isn't an easy team to shut down, but VT did it, and the same goes for OSU.  ECU carved them up, though, and GT mounted two fourth-quarter drives (aided by a Michael Brewer interception) to pull out the win.  The Hokies just don't look substantively better than most of the rest of the Coastal.  With the game in Blacksburg, it'll of course be tough, but this year is as good a shot as any to stop losing to these guys.

*********************************************

So what do I think?  I think we go bowling, that's what.  I didn't think so before the season, but I do now, for two reasons.  One is defense.  The other is that the schedule is mostly full of very beatable teams.  UVA could be bowl-eligible ten days from now, but even if not, opportunities abound.  The next three games are against teams that can't really defend.  Finding out what bowl game you're going to is one of the most fun parts of a college football season; it's even better when you had no expectation of doing so.  Being wrong was never so exciting.